The Fine Line Between Health and Disease

Photo by Artur Rutkowski on Unsplash

I have invested the last eleven years in understanding the human body, specifically the cardiovascular system. My passion for what I do is derived from the phenomenon of our human body. The human body is programmed to turn over cells every few weeks, has its own language for communicating within itself, performs life sustaining functions every second, and is able to absorb, integrate, and react to the external world. As a Cardiology fellow my training has focused on understanding the cardiovascular disease process and how it affects health in general.

As a physician it is our duty to treat illnesses and educate our patients on preventative measures. When a patient presents with a heart attack there are a plethora of blood tests in our toolbox that can reveal the extent of the heart muscle damage, as well as point towards the direction of prognosis in the long run. Similarly, when a patient presents with heart failure, diabetes, kidney disease, endocrine disorders we are able to prognosticate our patients according to the results of certain blood tests and how they respond clinically to our treatments and therapies. The tools that physicians use to treat their patients in the face of disease are sophisticated, helpful, and ultimately can be life saving to the patient. However, grading health is far more complicated. Thus as a physician who is dedicating her career to treating cardiovascular disease, I often ask myself how do I attain health for my patients and more importantly what does health look like?

There are multiple factors that play a role in developing diseases, some of which we can alter and others we have to accept. The genetic makeup and predisposition to certain diseases we are born with, as well as the socioeconomic and environmental status we are raised in are out of our control. However, can we still impact and assist our bodies in leaning towards health rather than disease? From what I have learned, the answer is straightforward and a resounding yes; it comes down to the choices we make in our daily lives.

In medicine in order for us to appreciate the boundary between health and disease we have to learn to comprehend and acknowledge research and statistics. Health does not look a certain way, a “healthy” 50 year old can have a heart attack, however is less likely to when compared to a similar 50 year old who smokes. For instance, research has revealed certain modifiable risk factors that contribute to cardiovascular disease and I believe altering these modifiable risk factors is where health breathes and lives. Health can’t be measured by a blood test and health doesn’t have a typical appearance, however the mark of how healthy a individual is belongs to the lifestyle choices one makes.

Do you have a balanced diet? Are you cutting back on smoking with plans of eventually stopping? Are you exercising regularly? Are you developing healthy habits to combat stress you are facing? Are you getting ample sleep? Are you holding yourself accountable for your choices? These are a few questions that I have found to be most impactful in ensuring a healthy lifestyle change for my patients. Furthermore, by assisting patients in realizing that health is a spectrum until our bodies become unwell, and by giving them tools to lean more towards health, I do believe I am helping them understand their health is in their hands. Although I may not have a blood test to tell my patients how healthy they are, I do have plenty to tell them when they are approaching the fine line between health and disease. And I believe it is a physician’s duty to educate and empower patients towards health, while helping them combat and recover from illness. The boundary between health and disease may be fragile, complicated, and non-linear however healthy life style choices are crystal clear.

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Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com on January 13, 2018.

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